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Medium-Sized Farms Disappearing In Kentucky

Nicole Erwin
Ohio Valley ReSource

The new U.S. Department of Agriculture census released April 11 shows mid-sized farms in Kentucky farms are on the decline.

The new USDA Census of Agriculture is based on data collected from farms across the country for the year 2017. That census is done very five years, so the 2017 state-by-state data is compared to previous statistics from 2012.

David Knopf is regional director of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service based Louisville. He said the new census confirms a trend in Kentucky that the number of small and large farms are increasing, while those in the middle are disappearing.

"In the categories from one-to-50 acres, we had increases, especially in that one-to-nine acres." said Knopf. "Then from the 50-to-500 acres we saw decreases, especially in the 50-to-180 size category. And then from there, the 500 or more acres, we saw increases in number of farms.”

Knopf said the mid-sized farm tends to go out of business or increase in size so it can be more competitive and take advantage of economies of scale.

Kentucky is in line with national statistics that contradict the idea that family farms are fading away. The new census shows that nationally 96 percent of farms are family-owned. Knopf said in Kentucky 93 percent of farms are family-owned. 

Overall, the new census shows Kentucky’s agricultural industry is growing at a healthy pace, both in dollars and in diversity.

Agriculture is a $5.7 billion industry in Kentucky, up from $5.1 billion five years earlier.

Knopf said Kentucky’s agricultural industry is on a strong foundation with cattle, horses and poultry, along with the major field crops of corn, soybeans, wheat.   

Smaller sectors of agricultural production show the diversity and strength of farming in the Bluegrass State, said Knopf.

“The other items that are important are things like our nurseries and our vegetables and our fruit," said Knopf. "Those are not a big part of the sales, but when you add them all together, they bring us to the total of $5.7 billion worth of crops and livestock that are raised and sold from farms in Kentucky.”

The new census shows that Kentucky farmers harvested 9,000 acres of vegetables for sale during 2017, up from 7,400 acres reported in the 2012 census. 

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Rhonda Miller began as reporter and host for All Things Considered on WKU Public Radio in 2015. She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.
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